Thu, Apr 13, 2017 - Page 10 News List

Yahoo dissident fund misused: lawsuit

FURTHER LOSS OF FACE:Yahoo turned a ‘blind eye’ to Chinese dissident Harry Wu’s use of the fund, which included payouts to himself and his wife, the complaint said


A lawsuit accused Yahoo Inc of breaking a financial promise it made to Chinese dissidents almost a decade ago as penance for helping the Chinese government find and jail other advocates.

The complaint, filed on Tuesday in a Washington federal court by a group of Chinese dissidents, contends that Yahoo mismanaged a US$17 million fund set up to provide financial aid to advocates.

Yahoo created the human rights fund in 2007, days after US legislators roasted the company for providing authorities with information that led to the imprisonment of two Chinese dissidents, Wang Xiaoning (王小寧) and Shi Tao (師濤).

The complaint alleges that Yahoo allowed Harry Wu (吳弘達), a now-deceased Chinese dissident, to spend about US$13 million of the fund enriching himself and pursuing other projects tied to his interests.

Only US$700,000 has been doled out to Chinese dissidents who had been imprisoned for expressing their opinions online, the reason Yahoo bankrolled the fund, according to the lawsuit.

Yahoo declined to comment.

The plaintiffs want Yahoo to replenish the fund and to pay unspecified damages.

The suit arrives at a delicate time for Yahoo, which is preparing to sell its online operations to Verizon Communications for US$4.5 billion.

The unflattering portrait drawn in the lawsuit represents yet another blotch on Yahoo’s record in China.

Yahoo’s role in fingering Wang and Shi subjected the Sunnyvale, California, company to withering criticism that culminated in Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang (楊致遠) being grilled at a US congressional hearing.

“While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies,” US Representative Tom Lantos, a Democrat, told Yang.

Two days later, Yahoo announced the US$17 million fund as part of a settlement that ended lawsuits related to its role in the imprisonment of Wang and Shi.

“We are committed to making sure our actions match our values around the world,” Yahoo vowed in November 2007 in a statement announcing the fund.

The new lawsuit argues Yahoo instead used the fund as “window dressing” to help shield the company from further ridicule and resolve other lawsuits.

Meanwhile, Yahoo turned a “blind eye” to Wu’s reckless spending, even though company executives had been warned about the abuses as far back as 2010, according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges that Wu paid himself and his wife more than US$1 million, spent about US$4 million buying real estate in Washington and more than US$800,000 on his own legal bills, including a case alleging sexual harassment.

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